From Self-Published to Book Contract: or How to Take Ten Years Off Your Life

Author Cathie Beck took the digital road when promoting her memoir--with some interesting results.
Striking a book deal with VOICE Books in November of 2009 and then watching my memoir, Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship hit bookstores across the country on July 20, 2010 is a saga that looks a lot like many other book authors’ publishing tales.

I drafted Cheap Cabernet in 1999, all 90 pages of it. Those 90 pages gave me something to work with and for the next two years, while still working full time as a freelance writer, adjunct professor and PR hack, I worked the manuscript into something palatable and 250 pages long.

Then I went to New York and, while interviewing agents for a magazine article, I surreptitiously interviewed each of them to potentially agent my book. Many agreed to read it and one agent committed to representing it.

Then the fun began. She took it to all “the houses” and a year and three-dozen rejections later, we decided the book needed a rewrite. So rewrite I did. Two years and a second round of rejections later, I threw the thing on a shelf (even as it won regional writing awards).

By then, it was 2008 or something and I read an article about online book marketing. I’ve been doing public relations for ten years and I like “social media” and so with the manuscript collecting dust on a shelf, I went to the 2009 New Orleans Jazz Fest and mulled over self-publishing and an online book launch.

A week of Aaron Neville and Dr. John later, I came home and thought: What if I hosted a Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship online book launch party, with the goal of blowing the top off Amazon.com Best Sellers lists? And what if I looped in some agents and book publishers while the book climbed the best-seller ranks? What if I made a Launch Day of Oct. 6, 2009, a date purposefully chosen because it was a Tuesday (agents and publishers are working) and the publishing industry is active (not out for the holidays or summer vacations)?

I decided to go for it. I built a Web site and media lists and wrote press releases. I edited the book one final time, hired a book jacket designer, got it printed and then built “marketing collateral packages” — little gift boxes with plastic wine glasses printed with “Cheap Cabernet” on the side, plus a press release and an autographed copy of book.

I pretended Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship was the most critical piece of breakthrough literature the world had never heard of.

I got other Web sites to post announcements of Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship’s Big Launch, and some donated product as giveaways to book buyers. I put all this action on Facebook and Twitter and shamelessly continued five months of constant, driven, excitement-laden activity. I asked all friends and family to not just buy books, but to sell Cheap Cabernet to all their friends.

On October 6, 2009, Cheap Cabernet: A Memoir hit No. 12 on Amazon.com’s Memoirs Best Seller List (jockeying all morning long with Madeleine Albright’s memoir, Pins). It hit overall books Best-Seller at No. 67 and hit No. 1 on Amazon.com’s “Movers & Shakers” list.

Over 500 carefully selected agents and publishers got emails from me all morning long with “print screen” images of Cheap Cabernet’s rising up the Amazon Best Sellers Lists. Many were not happy and demanded I remove them from my mailing list, but never-you-mind. Twenty two publishers and 16 agents asked me to overnight them the book as a result of all that effort.

On Oct. 26, 2009, Dorian Karchmar, a rock star agent, agreed to represent the book. She held a 3-house auction and on Nov. 6, 2009, we sold Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship to Brenda Copeland at Hyperion’s VOICE imprint and accelerated its editing and publishing schedule so that Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship hit bookstore and retail shelves across the nation on July 20, 2010.

Some might call it a Cinderella publishing story. It is. Only it took the Princess about 10 years to finally find the shoe that fit.

Take-aways:

Decide what you want. Be specific. (Do you want to sell your book or self-publish for the long haul?)

Take an online book marketing class (I teach one now). Learn what works.

Write a 25-word description of your target market: age, gender, income.

Get in front of every online (and otherwise) audience you know.

Pick a launch date and build a Web site.

Get at least one good review. Use it everywhere.

Have faith and go for it with every ounce of your being.

Views: 259

Tags: #publishing, e-publishing, self-publishing

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Comment by Linda Hoff Irvin on September 28, 2011 at 6:05pm

Sorry - I'm not sure that savvy is a noun.  Chutzpah? Linda

Comment by Linda Hoff Irvin on September 28, 2011 at 6:03pm
Yow - this is an inspiring story! Wish I had the savvy...Linda
Comment by Cathie Beck on September 26, 2010 at 9:08am
Thanks SO MUCH for all the feedback on what I've written about self-publishing my own memoir, "Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship" -- and just for your WONDERFUL support in general!

You'll never know how much it means to me -- hey -- come "friend" me on Facebook -- I update that every day, often several times a day, with pics (we're in the midst of an 8-part "Where is Cheap Cabernet Pouring THIS Week" Series -- you can win lots of stuff like 2010 Signature Cheap Cabernet Wine & autographed books --

but you can also eyeball the shenanigans we're pulling off :)

www.facebook.com/cathiebeck

www.facebook.com/cheapcabernet

THANKS TO YOU ALL!!

Cathie
Comment by Cathie Beck on August 25, 2010 at 9:49am
Not at ALL, Jenne.

In fact, my "take" on current "traditional" publishing folks is that they LOOK to the self-published author -- who's also working her tale off to sell her book (including securing a decent review or two) -- as their "possible next, new author."

My self-publishing story is NOT the only one of its kind -- and -- publishers and agents don't care if you've done something someone else has also done successfully. They care IF you've climbed that publishing mountain on your own -- and garnered some success in the process.

If an author wants it, she can have it!

I know it for a fact :).

Thanks for the dialogue!

Cathie Beck
www.cathiebeck.com
Comment by Kathleen B. Jones on August 18, 2010 at 5:49pm
Very inspiring and motivating story. As someone who is about to try the rounds with another set of agents for a memoir that was completed several years ago, and edited and re-edited several more times to its shape now, I appreciated your perseverance and advice. I am not sure I am ready to self-publish yet, but your story gives me some pointers to consider if I try...and without your marketing acumen. Thanks!
Comment by Tania Zaverta Chance on August 16, 2010 at 8:13pm
This is inspirational- great ideas, thanks Cathie!
~ Tania
www.taniazavertachance.com
Comment by Cathie Beck on August 16, 2010 at 2:50pm
VERY nice to read all of your comments. Judith -- you're spot-on -- PR for yourself is brutal :). Doreen -- thanks loads! Carol -- GIRL! You don't KNOW exhausted :) Ha! Rebecca -- thanks much for your particular feedback! Holly & Dasaya -- believe it or not, I honestly KNOW that if I can do this -- you can too! Thanks MUCH to Deborah for this opportunity! Friend me on Facebook, gals! XO Cathie
Comment by Judith van Praag on August 15, 2010 at 8:16pm
Congrats. So, self publishing allowed you to break the rule —do not send gimmicks— which you'd been bound to if just sending off just your manuscript to be considered and you landed an agent and a deal because your self-published book proved to be a success in a similar way as Richard Paul Evens's "The Christmas Basket Box". No coincidence that both you and Evens know something about P.R. (or advertising), although doing P.R. for oneself can be a difficult thing to do, whether you're a pro or not.
Wonderful to know this approach worked so well for you.
I wish you as much continuing success as Evens found with his "miracle" (his latest memoir is about the making of the first book).
Comment by Doreen McGettigan on August 15, 2010 at 5:07pm
Thank you for sharing that story. Obviously your faith and determination paid off and I am truly inspired!
Comment by Carol Clouse on August 15, 2010 at 12:48pm
Whew! I am simutaneously inspired and ...exhausted!
Maintaining passion and momentum is at the core of many success stories. Thank you for sharing your tale of perserverence!

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